Solar eclipses and Biblical events
In the summer of 2017, those in North America were treated to an eclipse of Biblical proportions. A total solar eclipse (when the moon completely blocks the sun, casting the earth in temporary darkness) was visible across the United States on August 21, 2017 (see map for visibility). When solar eclipses work their eerie wonders, shadows will behave strangely. Pin-hole openings in tree leaf cover will project tiny eclipses on the ground. Some people will see shadow waves—bands of shade moving across the ground.
Viewers in the path of the August 2017 eclipse experienced about 2 minutes of total darkness. At the spot marked GD—Greatest Duration—the eclipse lasted 2 minutes and 40.2 seconds. The spot marked GE—Greatest Eclipse—indicates the location where the moon’s shadow passed closest to the earth’s center.
Might eclipses, together with the timing of Biblical events, have been interpreted as divine messages and signs?
The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—throughout the Mediterranean world.
King Hezekiah has gone down in history as one of Judah’s good kings, a reformer. At one point, he became deathly ill. The story of his illness and cure is told in 2 Kings 20:1–11 and Isaiah 38:1–7, and a brief mention of the event is found at 2 Chronicles 32:24. 2 Kings tells of a “boil,” which may suggest a type of cancer. Surely, Hezekiah’s physicians used all their knowledge and skill to save the king. Baths, dressings, dietary changes, internal medications—nothing was successful against the boil.
The Biblical account relates that Isaiah the prophet was sent to Hezekiah to inform him that he would die from his illness. Hezekiah prayed for healing, and Isaiah had not left the palace when he was sent back to the king with a different message: The Lord would heal him and give him another 15 years of life. A sign was to confirm the healing. The shadow could move forward or backward on an outdoor stairway. Hezekiah chose for the shadow to move backward (2 Kings 20:10).
On March 5 in 702 B.C.E., the 16th year before Hezekiah’s death, a prominent solar eclipse appeared over the Middle East (see NASA’s Five Millennium Catalog of Solar Eclipses). Its path crossed the Arabian Peninsula, and the obscuration of the sun over Israel was more than 60 percent.
If a stairway had been engulfed in darkness and then restored to daylight, the shadow would have appeared to retreat. A shadow wave, produced by an eclipse, may also have given the appearance of a shadow retreating. If you were in the path of the eclipse on August 21, 2017, you too might have seen this rare Biblical sign.
It would be another hundred years before the Greeks would accomplish the first actual prediction of an eclipse.
Based on Strata: “Rare Eclipse Coming This August,” Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2017.
Frederick Baltz is on the faculty of the Institute of Lutheran Theology.
Herod’s Death, Jesus’ Birth and a Lunar Eclipse
A Comet Gives Birth to an Empire by Sarah K. Yeomans
King Hezekiah in the Bible: Royal Seal of Hezekiah Comes to Light
Ancient Latrine: A Peek into King Hezekiah’s Reforms in the Bible?
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on August 11, 2017.
Sign up to receive our email newsletter and never miss an update.
Dig into the illuminating world of the Bible with a BAS All-Access membership. Combine a one-year tablet and print subscription to BAR with membership in the BAS Library to start your journey into the ancient past today!Subscribe Today
You totally miss the meaning of this eclipse. It is part of two eclipses which will cross America and make an X at New Madrid fault zone. The second eclipse happens 4/8/2024. After this date, the New Madrid zone will experience a cataclysmic series of earthquakes which will change the US forever.
Very skeptical of the :”shadow ” scenario. A 60 percent eclipse would not give that effect.
All Israelie children are 1 when they are born.
This article is wrong. The eclipse in Israel on this date, as the author said, was partial – so no “shadows” were made, and no darkness fell on the land of Israel. Also, “shadow bands” (the author called them “shadow waves”) are NOT formed in a partial eclipse! (Shadow bands are only observed in the fleeting moments before and after totality Indeed, with a 60% partial eclipse, unless you knew it was happening, it could take place completely unnoticed.
“Astronomers know that on March 5, in 702 B.C, which was 15 years before the king died, there was a solar eclipse that could be seen throughout the Middle East.” http://religionnews.com/2017/08/17/eclipse-charlottesville-barcelona-terror/
King Hezekiah died 699 BC. Above based on incorrect chronology of Thiele. Perhaps more explanation later.
Believe Gene has corrected. http://biblechronologybooks.com/hebrewkings.html
The siege against Judah’s capital in 702 BC (not 701 BC) occurred in the third year of Sennacherib. Perhaps this relates to eclipse. 6/15/763 BC was eclipse of Nineveh when Jonah preached.
Today’s lection “May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us—
2 so that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.”
“Shine” relates to eclipse.
“Another likely literary source is the plague narrative in the Book of Exodus, in which Egypt is covered by darkness for three days. It has been suggested that the author of Matthew’s gospel changed the Marcan text slightly to more closely match this source. Commentators have also drawn comparisons with the description of darkness in the Genesis creation narrative, with a prophecy regarding mid-day darkness by Jeremiah, and with an end-times prophecy in the Book of Zechariah.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion_darkness
“Astronomers know that on March 5, in 702 B.C, which was 15 years before the king died, there was a solar eclipse that could be seen throughout the Middle East.”
King Hezekiah died 699 BC. Above based on incorrect chronology of Thiele, I believe.
Believe Gene has corrected. http://biblechronologybooks.com/hebrewkings.html
Chapter V–HEZEKIAH vs. SENNACHERIB: THIELE’S ANACHRONISM pp 99-118
Chapter X–ANCHOR DATES COMPARED; COMPUTER vs. THIELE pp 194-234
“G. ANCHOR DATE 7
701 B.C.–The Fourteenth Year Of Hezekiah
The major date for Thiele’s chronology of the Hebrew kings is 701 BC. All really hinges on this date as an absolute date in his Hebrew chronology–
‘The date of 701 for the attack of Sennacherib in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah is a key point in my chronological pattern for the Hebrew rulers. This is a precise date from whih we may go forward or backward o the basis of the regnal data to all other dates in our pattern. Full confidence can be placed in 701 as the fourteenth year of Hezekiah, and and complete confidence can be placed in any other dates for either Israel or Judah reckoned from that date in accord with the reqirements of the numbers in Kings. 65 footnote Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, p. 174’
Chapter 5 details the reasons why the year 701 can’t be the 14th year of Hezekiah. That chapter has shown clearly that two attacks against Jerusalem are given: both in the Bible and in the annals of Sennacherib. The Bible highlights the siege on the 14th of Hezekiah, and Sennacherib highlights the siege of the 27th of Hezekiah. The attack directed against Jerusalem in the Bible took place in 715 BC, the 14th year of Hezekiah. The siege against Judah’s capital in 702 BC (not 701 BC) occurred in the third year of Sennacherib.”
Perhaps this relates to eclipse of March 5, 702 BC. Perhaps the darkening of the Chronology of Hebrew Kings is signified by this eclipse.
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2 Kings 18.1-19.37, 20.10,20&version=NIV
Maybe if this book is found, it will clarify– “are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?”
6/15/763 BC was eclipse of Nineveh when Jonah preached.
What, if any, correlation with Jesus’ Return?!?
Dear Dr. Frederick Baltz,
Thank you for your article! We learned a lot from it. However, according to the pdf file (5MCSE-Maps-04.pdf) provided by NASA (Location: ), 702 B. C. E. should be replaced by 701 B. C. E. For there was a solar eclipse that king Hezekiah can see in 701 B. C. E., but there was no solar eclipse that he can see in 702 B. C. E. Besides, according to Dr. John Bright, Hezekiah may died in 687 or 686 B. C .E. That is to say, “15 years before he died” is correct. Would you please give us your opinion on this? Thank you very much!
May the Lord bless your works greatly!